Good-government organizations in New York are seeking a reset with the state's new ethics and lobbying commission as the panel takes shape this month and after the previous regulator came under intense criticism for dysfunction, leaks and cozy relationships with elected officials.
The watchdog groups want the new Commission on Lobbying and Ethics in Government to address many of the issues that had plagued the Joint Commission on Public Ethics. The new panel's commissioners should find ways of increasing transparency and access to public information, have a clear "firewall" between appointed commissioners and the elected officials who appoint them, pursue enforcement issues promptly and examine how best to issue advisory opinions for ethics-related concerns.
The push for changes from the groups, which include Reinvent Albany, the New York Public Interest Research Group, the New York City Bar Association, the League of Women Voters and the Sexual Harassment Working Group, would also include having commissioners take "trauma-infromed" harassment training as well.
Already, the ethics commission is facing questions after the rejection of several appointees to the panel initially made by Senate Minority Leader Robert Ortt, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and state Attorney General Letitia James. Unlike the prior commission, the new panel's appointments must be reviewed and approved by law school deans.
No reason has been given for why the initial appointments were rejected by the panel of deans.
The prior commission had come under criticism for lacking transparency, pursuing a case against a rape survivor who had been accused of violating the state's lobbying regulations when she advocated for the Child Victim's Act, and initially granting approval for then-Gov. Andrew Cuomo to write a book about the COVID-19 pandemic.